Washington: The US is making every effort to reduce the waiting time for a visa interview appointment in India, a top State Department official has said, asserting that the visa processing is recovering faster than projected and is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels over the coming year.
Addressing the growing concern over the backlog of visa applications from countries like India, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on Wednesday that he certainly understands the frustrations of those who have to wait for a long time.
As of November 2022, the median worldwide wait time for a tourist visa (B1/B2) interview appointment was about two months, and applicants with urgent travel needs who meet certain criteria can apply for an emergency appointment, usually available within days.
Visa processing recovering faster
"Visa processing is recovering faster than projected and over the coming year, we expect to reach pre-pandemic processing levels," Price said.
The US issued more student visas in the fiscal year 2022 than in any year since 2016, he said, adding that its embassy and consulates in India in particular broke their all-time record for the number of student visas issued in a single fiscal year.
1,25,000 student visas issued
"We issued nearly 1,25,000 student visas. We recognise that some applicants may still face extended visa wait times, and we're making every effort to further reduce visa interview appointment wait times as quickly as possible in India and around the world, including for first-time tourist visa applicants," he said.
"I can tell you that it is a priority of the Secretary and of the Department to do everything we can to reduce that backlog and ultimately to reduce the wait times," he said.
He said the State Department was committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the US while safeguarding national security.
"We know that timely visa processing is essential to the US economy and to the administration's goal of family reunification. We've made great strides in recovering from pandemic-related closures and staffing challenges, but we're still working to respond to the significant demand for visa services," Price said.
Demand for visa has increased post pandemic
He said the demand for visa services has only increased as pandemic restrictions have eased in countries across the world and people are looking for opportunities to travel to the US.
"We are successfully lowering visa wait times worldwide. We've doubled our hiring of US Foreign Service personnel to do this important work," he said.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September raised the issue of the backlog of visa applications from India to which the top American diplomat said he was sensitive to the matter and has the plan to address it.
The State Department has said in the past that has made great strides in returning to pre-pandemic visa processing levels and in reducing appointment wait times.
Indians make up large proportion of the H-1B and other work visas
Indians make up a large proportion of the recipients of H-1B and other work visas granted to skilled foreign workers, many in the tech industry.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
According to travel.state.gov reports on October 31, there is an average of 900+ days' wait time for appointments for visitors' visas (B1/B2), an average of 400 days wait time for students (F, M,J), and an average 300 days' wait time for petition-based temp workers like H, L, O, P and Q across the US consulates in India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata).
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